Before the association was formally organized, Filipinos had already established residency in Tallahassee. Medical professionals, university students, and spouses of military personnels were the early immigrants. Their unwavering generosity and warm hospitality to new Filipino arrivals enabled adjusting a lot easier and more pleasant.
On September 17, 1981, the Castillos hosted a birthday party in Chatahoochee. The guests enjoyed the food and fellowship that they decided to organize a socio-civic Fil-American Association. Dr. Albert Narvades presided the fledgling group.
In December, Filipino-Americans from Leon, Gadsden, and adjacent counties celebrated their Christmas Party at the Gadsden Golf and Country Club. The first official election and induction of officers took place during the party. Gloria Calderon was elected the first president, with Alex Cardona and Julie Awkard as Vice-President and Secretary/Treasurer, respectively.
In the fall of 1982, Dr. Calderon relocated to another state. Alex Cardona assumed the presidency for the remaining term with Paul Leano taking the Vice-presidency. The theme of this administration was “Charity begins at Home”. Students from Florida State University became actively involved in the association’s activities. Raising funds involve yard sales and donations from members. In 1984, the Filipinos participated for the first time in the Springtime Tallahassee parade with the motif “Flores de Mayo”.
Mila Ignatz was elected president. The other officers were Ernie Domondon (VP), Melva Campos(Secretary) and Mila Pescador(Treasurer). During this period, there were approximately 40 Filipino families and students residing in Tallahassee and surrounding towns. The organization is loosely knit and the activities were informal. The two main activities were the Annual Christmas Party and the 4th of July picnic. The main event initiated during this administration was the monthly Rosary Crusade, which also served as a regular socialization opportunities for the members. Fund raising efforts benefits Oblate missions in the Philippines. The UPDATE newletter was published and distributed tri-annually and became the main line of communication among the members.
Ernesto Domondon assumed the presidency with Mandy Escueta (VP), Agnes Santos(Secretary), and Amy Cardona(Treasurer) completing his cabinet. This administration revitalized interest and increased participation in association activities. The first caroling group was formed in December of 1991 for the purpose of helping our poor kababayans.
Amadeo Escueta became the president. It was during this administration that the association became a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. The name “Big Bend Filipino-American Association, Inc. “ was chosen by members and the logo was created by Bing Cruz. The Board of Directors were also formed with Alex Cardona, Joe Hernandez, Ernie Domondon, Mila Ignatz and Jun Agbunag as members. the other officers were Rei Manzo(VP), Jesse Api(Secretary), Amy Cardona(Treasurer), Cenon Lacap (PRO) and Gloria Simmons (Auditor). The non-profit status allowed flexibility in the Association’s operation, especially in fund-raising and charitable activities. In 1993, the annual summer picnic was held at Lake Seminole in Chattahoochee. The BBFAA participated in the the Springtime Tallahassee parade with a float featuring Bahay Kubo. A fund raising concert featuring Keno, an entertainer from the Philippines was held in Tallahassee and Pensacola.
Rei Manzo took the helm as president along with Clyde Diao(VP), Jesse Api (Secretary), Amy Cardona(Treasurer), Aurora Hansen (PRO) and Joy Turingan (Auditor). The Board of Directors were composed of Mandy Escueta, Ernie Domondon, Alex Cardona and Ralph Turingan. The spirit of "Kaisahan, Bayanihan, Samahan" characterized this administration, used as the theme of the Christmas party in 1994, which was later (2008) adopted as the official motto of the organization. For the first time the association participated in the "Unity in the Community" celebration in Tallahassee. Filipino culture was showcased through the presentation of native attires, songs, dances, and food. The BBFAA also participated in the "Festival of Lights," an annual Christmas celebration parade sponsored by the City. In December 1995, the BBFAA represented the Philippines in a memorial service commemorating the 50th anniversary of landing of American Forces in Leyte.
Clyde Diao was elected president with Julie Awkard as Vice-President, along with Pilar Hinchliffe (Secretary), Filemon Patacxil (Treasurer), Aurora Hansen (PRO), Lally Govans (Auditor) and John Marks, who would later become the City Mayor, as a legal adviser. The Board of Directors is composed of Manny Pescador(chair), Alex Cardona, Erni Domondon, Mandy Escueta, Ferdie Francisco, Bert Lingao and Rei Manzo. This administration saw the birth of “Bamboo Chimes of Tallahassee” (the Angklung) organized by the Agbunag and Patacxil families. The group involved many association members and performed for the community and church activities. It was also in this era that the association’s official newletter, Tambuli gots its name with Filemon Patacxil as Editor. In Christmas 1996, the BBFAA, entered a float in the “Festival of Lights” parade and won an award. During the Christmas Party, Philippine Ambassador Raul Rabe gave the keynote speech. In its 16th anniversary, the members approved the preparation of a commemorative book Pagkakaisa from which most of these texts were taken. In 1997 the constitution and the by-laws of the association were formally ratified by general membership.
An all-women officership held the reins of the Association for the first time. Aurora Hansen was elected president along with Melody Agbunag (VP), Charito Manzo (Secretary), Merlinda Patacxil (Treasurer), Donna Phelps (Auditor) and Lally Govans (PRO). The Board of Directors composed of Raul Quimbo (Chair), Efren Baltazar, Alex Cardona, Clyde Diao, Mandy Escueta, Rei Manzo and Manny Pescador. This administration is marked by increase participation of the association in community activities. In 1999, Barbara Reyes was appointed as Tambuli editor who introduced a new newsletter format, resuming the publication in June after a year of silence.
Charito Manzo was elected president with Ferdie Francisco (VP), Pilar Hinchliffe (Secretary), Treasurer Merlinda Patacxil (Treasurer), PRO Lally Govans (PRO), Van Campos (Auditor); Board of Directors: Jun Agbunag, Efren Baltazar, Alex Cardona, Bruce Meyers, Rei Manzo, Clyde Diao, Aurora Hansen. With the tenuous membership, this administation successfully held the association intact which allowed it to survive the usual “growing pains”. In 2000, the BBFAA received a grant from the Department of Health and produced ”Kicking Butts, Saving Lives”, a calendar, booklet, scrapbook depicting Philippine sceneries and culture which is geared toward educating minorities of the perils of tobacco. In December 2001, the commemorative book, Pagkakaisa was released. A change in the By-laws required a candidate for elective position to be an active member for two years prior to nomination.
Fernando Francisco was elected president, Rene Manzo (Vice President), Sue Sparks (Secretary), Lorna Roman (Treasurer) , Fred Jimenez (PRO), Nestor Abuan (Auditor), Board of Directors: Jun Agbunag, Amy Cardona, Filemon Patacxil, Fritz Domondon, Clyde Diao, Aurora Hansen , Charito Manzo. The adminisration received increased exposure in many of its activities, including advertisements in the local newspaper as well as extending friendships outside the Big Bend. The Annual Summer picnic at Maclay Gardens received media attention and was televised in the afternoon news. This was also the time when the BBFAA entered the cyberspace, gaining an ad-sponsored website. In March 2002, the BBFAA hosted Philippines Ambassador Albert del Rosario in his visit to Tallahassee. This is also the first time the BBFAA sent delegation in the Tampa PhilFest. In the same year, the BBFAA was tapped to administer a $30,000 grant from the Department of Health as part of the state’s Tobacco Settlement through the efforts of Aurora Hansen and Josephine Kershaw. The BBFAA presented a multicultural festival in Pensacola with the theme Youth against Tobacco. The following year 2003, the BBFAA again received a minigrant of $2470 from DOH to facilitate the “United We Stand – Youth Against Tobacco” event held at Palmer Munroe Community Center targeting the four minority groups (Asian-Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Hispanics, African Americans). it was also this year that our long-time BBFAA member and legal counsel, John Marks III was elected Mayor of Tallahassee.
This two-term period came about due to the 2005 constitutional amendment allowing re-election of the President for a maximum of two terms. This move allowed continued momentum in planned activities without being hampened by election process. Most of the officers were reelected with the same positions: Clyde Diao (President), Arneil Reyes (Vice-President), Maria Balingit(Secretary), Lorna Roman(Treasurer).
The others were: 2004-2005: Pilar Hinchliffe(PRO), Mandy Escueta(Auditor), Board of Directors: Alex Cardona, Rene Manzo, Jun Agbunag, Josephine Ang, Aurora Hansen, Charito Manzo, Ferdie Francisco; and 2006-2007: Mafe Brooks(PRO), Rei Manzo(Auditor), Board of Directors: Manny Pescador, Alex Cardona, Josephine Ang, Mandy Escueta , Aurora Hansen, Ferdie Francisco. The period was characterized by the association becoming more politically recognized and its establishing a strong foothold in the community. In 2004, the BBFAA registered the URL www.bbfaa.org and transfered its website to an ad-free host. The same year saw the birth of the Asian Coalition of Tallahassee (ACT), a brainchild of the President Clyde Diao, with the goal of uniting Asians in Tallahassee. In September, the ACT sponsored the well-attended first “Experience Asia” event in a downtown park. It was also this year that the second MOA was forged with the Philippine Normal University in Manila. This administration expanded its fund-raising activity by joining the Baseball and Football Concessions at FSU. In 2006, the BBFAA hosted the Regional NaFFAA convention in Tallahassee attended by prominent Filipino civic leaders in the Southeast. Other notable personalities visiting Tallahassee and hosted by BBFAA were Dr. Rolando De Guzman, first Filipino FSU alumni in Public Administration and brother-in-law of former President Joseph Estrada; and in 2007, Congresswoman Liwayway Vinzons-Chato and Undersecretary of Trade and Industry Dr. Mina Gabor visited with USO to promote information technology businessess in the Philippines. A third MOA was entered into with West Visayas State University in 2007 in which 67 prospective candidates vie for 4 scholarship slots.
Arneil Reyes was elected president with Sue Sparks (VP), Maria Balingit (Secretary), Lorna Roman (Treasurer), Mafe Brooks (PRO) and Rei Manzo (Auditor). Elected on the Board were Aurora Hansen, Josephine Ang, Manny Pescador, and Hosea Battles together with the previous presidents Clyde Diao, Ferdie Francisco and Charito Manzo. This administration focused on the educational well-being of the membership, promotion of ethnic culture, and community service projects. The beginning of the year was met by a tragic loss of one of the association’s founder and staunched supporter Julie Awkard. The BBFAA dedicated a Tree of Life and established the “Julita Castro Awkard Memorial Scholarship” in her honor. The BBFAA Folk Dance Troupe formally formed in 2008 by Barbara Reyes following a successful debut at the 2007 Christmas Party and it’s first public performance at the Global Gathering Event at FSU. In May, the BBFAA entered a monthly service project agreement with City of Tallahassee, called Adopt-A-Street. Member activities were formalized to form the Member Development Series, a family-oriented series of events designed to educate the members about their community and culture. This includes tours of places of civic, industrial, and educational nature and presentation of ethnic arts, crafts, culture, and sports. In July, the BBFAA sponsored a concert “Moonlight and Music”, along with the Philippine Airlines, featuring the world renowned tenor Francisco Aseniero and pianist Reynaldo Reyes at the TCC Auditorium. In the same month, the Annual Summer Picnic was held for the first time outside Florida, in the beautiful Seminole State Park in Georgia. The Executive Council formally adopted the official motto “Kaisahan, Bayanihan, Samahan” (later used as the theme for the Christmas Party) and the BBFAA logo was modified to include “Est. 1981” to signify stability. The Sister City project, started two years prior, narrowed down to Puerto Princesa. In the Fall, the BBFAA participated actively in the Experience Asia celebration and the Hispanic Festival highlighted by the BBFAA Folk Dancers. The year saw an all-time record number of paid memberships to 125 families.
The following year, 2009, saw numerous invitation for performance for the BBFAA Dance Troupe, now formally named “Tallahassee Mabuhay Youth Dance Company (TMYDC). For the first time, the BBFAA officially participated in the Tampa Philfest celebration in early April with a 30-minute dance performance. In the same month, the BBFAA partnered with 10,000 Villages Fairtrade store to celebrate International Day which featured the Philippines. The event was televised in a local channel. The Angklung group – “Fiesta Filipiniana!”, performed by a crew of almost 100 from various groups(FF, TMYDC, BCT and FSA) is the first of its kind in North Florida. Proceeds of the program were donated to the victims of the calamity in the Philippines. In the same month, the BBFAA received a $2500 grant from US Census Bureau for the Census 2010 Awareness Drive.
Another historical first in the organization happened during this year’s election in November, claimed as the most exciting election ever. For the first time in 16 years, the members had a chance to vote for their president. There was not one, but three candidates for presidency: Romeo Aggabao, Mafe Brooks, and Arneil Reyes. In all previous elections, the president was chosen by acclamation of a single candidate and no opposition. This was a good sign that members had become more involved and more active in participating in the democratic process.
In order to serve the association better, the BBFAA website was moved to a paid host with no advertising. It was unveiled in February 2009 following a three-month development. The new website facilitates governance transparency by allowing members on-line access to various association documents and electronic payment of dues.
Arneil Reyes was re-elected president with Pilar Hinchliffe (VP), Maria Balingit (Secretary), Lorna Roman (Treasurer), Sharon Solis (PRO) and Denis Lefils (Auditor). The Board is comprised of Ferdie Francisco, Clyde Diao, Charito Manzo (former presidents) with Aurora Hansen, Josephine Ang, Sue Sparks and Phil Shoemaker getting the majority votes. In mid-January, Charito Manzo resigned her position due to health reasons. Ralph Brower, the next highest voted candidate, was taken in as replacement. Likewise, Pilar Hinchliffe resigned from her position in April citing health reasons. She was succeeded by Richie Spicer who was the other candidate for the position.
The year 2010 was marked by a number of activities forging ties from friends and visitors from outside the region. In late February, a group of eight young (high school) scientists accompanied by their mentor from Manila came over to Tallahassee for a visit on the way to compete in Young Inventors International Competition held in Valdosta, Georgia. The group were treated with a warm welcome party, a tour of Maglab (FSU’s National High Magnetic Field Laboratory) facilities and a potluck at the uniquely historical Mission San Luis Park and Museum. On March 24, the Consul General of the Philippines Hon. Angelo Macatangay, based in Miami, together with his wife Marylou and aide Mr. Dan Agudano came to Tallahassee to provide passport and other consular services for Filipinos in the Big Bend area. Folks from Pensacola to Jacksonville and as far North as Atlanta, Georgia, to as far south as Springhill, Florida took their time to avail of the services. The Consul’s delegation was greeted by the senior BBFAA members at a welcome dinner with Mayor Marks, and a Meet-the-Consul reception by the rest of the community at the Reyes’ residence. In April, the BBFAA’s ambassador of goodwill Folklorico Filipiniana and the Tallahassee Mabuhay Youth Dance Company joined the 14th annual Philfest celebration in Tampa, Florida. In mid-May, the 13th Annual BBFAA Initiative Grants Program which aims to give support to members of the community to perform projects and activities that fulfill the mission of the Association. The first awardee is Alexis Diao who traveled to the Philippines to interview the WWII Veterans and create a verbal history of the War leading to the Rescission Act. Another project is the Filipino-American History Month of October, aims to educate the young members of the community the Filipino culture and traditions. The artworks were displayed at Experience Asia event as well as the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library for two weeks. The awards were presented by Tallahassee First Lady Jane Marks at a Luau picnic at AJ Henry park.
The third project is the establishment of the BBFAA Initiatives Grant and organized by Barry Solis. The team placed third in a group of eight city-wide teams. The month also gave birth to Lasang Pinoy, the first Filipino food service in Tallahassee, owned by Donald Pernitez and Rodel Calub, Throughout Spring, the BBFAA, through its Ambassadors of Goodwill, TMYDC and Folklorico, participated in various city and community events. In March, a fund-raising drive, in cooperation with the ACT, was initiated to help the victims of a massive earthquake and Tsunami that hit Japan. The BBFAA finally enjoyed the St. George Island for its Annual Summer Picnic in June after last year’s oil-spill-botched plan. In August, the group toured the WCTV local CBS affiliate station as part of its Member Development Series. In early October, ACT held its 7th Annual Experience Asia where the BBFAA setup a food and display booth. The Folklorico and Mabuhay Dancers once again graced the stage. The Folklorico also showcased their skills at the Hispanic Festival held a week after. Citing health reasons, Phil Shoemaker resigned from his position on the Board and was replaced by Hosea Battles in October.
The year 2011 marks the Association’s 30th Anniversary. To celebrate the occasion, the BBFAA sponsored a series of events culminating in October to coincide with the Filipino-American History Month. The 2010 Fil-Am Art Contest, revived asMiss Fil-Am Tallahassee Pageant was also initiated which aimed to raise funds for charity and BBFAA’s projects. The third BBFAA Initiatives Grant was awarded in August to Kirk Hansen to produce a short historical video documentary of the Association. These activities culminated in the first Pista sa Nayon Town Fiesta 30th Anniversary celebration at Tallahassee Senior Center on October 23, 2011. The event was attended by almost 400 guests which made it the largest Filipino event in the history of Tallahassee. It featured a Philippine Fiesta atmosphere – street streamers, Filipino food, Filipino martial arts demonstration, folk music and folk dances performed by over 100 participants, and the awarding for the Art and Essay contest winners. The highlight was a beautiful ceremony honored by ROTC cadets – the coronation of the first Fiesta Queen Paulene Solis, who won the 2011 Miss Fil-Am Tallahassee.
Reyes’s 4-year presidency was dubbed BBFAA Rennaisance, which redefines the important and strategic role of Filipino organizations and their relationship with their communities. It culminated in a memorable, jam-packed Christmas Party at Monroe St. Conference Center with the theme Through the Years – 30th BBFAA Anniversary Celebration. Dr. Judi Taber of Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare Foundation, one of the charity recipients of Miss Fil-Am Tallahassee Pageant fund raiser, was the guest speaker. In an anti-climactic turn of events, the Philippines was hit before Christmas by a strong typhoon Sendong which caused massive landslides and left thousands dead and homeless on its wake in the cities of Cagayan de Oro and Iligan. The BBFAA once again responded by partnering with local charity headed by Dr. Mina Gabor of the International Women’s Forum and the International School of Sustainable Tourism to provide relief to the survivors.
More history to follow…
Presidents of BBFAA
Alberto Narvades – Sept 1981 – Dec 1981
Gloria Calderon – Jan 1982 – August 1982
Alex Cardona – Sept. 1982- Dec 1987
Mila Ignatz – Jan 1988 – Dec 1989
Ernie Domondon – Jan 1990 – Dec. 1991
Mandy Escueta – Jan 1992- Dec 1993
Rei Manzo – Jan 1994- Dec. 1995
Clyde Diao – Jan 1996 – Dec 1997
Aurora Hansen – Jan 1998 – Dec 1999
Charito Manzo – Jan 2000 – Dec 2001
Fernando Francisco – Jan 2002 – Dec 2003
Clyde Diao – Jan 2004 – Dec 2007
Arneil Reyes – Jan 2008 – Dec 2011
Clyde Diao – Jan 2012 – Dec 2013